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MiniPlus Article
April 16 2018
By Tim Deakin

Tim is Editor of routeone and has worked in both the coach and bus and haulage industries.

Iveco shows Daily Blue Power CNG and electric

Iveco is already looking towards the future of energy with the Daily Blue Power range. It majors on CNG and electric, and the manufacturer believes both are viable products – but it is not disregarding diesel

Daily range is increasingly popular already; alternative fuels are coming

Iveco’s Daily is the vehicle of the moment in the minicoach and minibus world. It celebrates its 40th anniversary in 2018, but the manufacturer is not resting on its laurels as it prepares the model for the future with Daily Blue Power.

Alternative energy sources form a significant part of Blue Power. Electric and compressed natural gas (CNG) are the basis of the strategy, but the Italian OEM does not rule out the addition of a ‘bolt on’ electric motor to give a short engine-off range in areas of high environmental sensitivity.

But operators who see diesel as the only viable option for their application should not be concerned at this news.

“Is diesel dead? We don’t think so. It’s still got a place,” says Alternative Fuels Director Martin Flach.

“But Dieselgate has done nobody any favours. Diesel has been demonised since then and we all agree that taxation on it will increase.”

That will create a small but potentially fruitful market for minicoaches, and particularly minibuses that return to base each evening, for the use of CNG and electric.

Iveco believes that a handful of conditions must be met if an alternative fuel is to succeed. It must match a diesel’s comfort levels for passengers, payload, performance, reliability, and total cost of ownership (TCO). It must of course also be low emission.

That’s where Iveco believes that its Daily Blue Power range comes in, and passenger applications are firmly in its sights as it basks in the recent success of the diesel Daily in the sector.

Sustainability is key

Central to the Blue Power line-up is sustainability. Iveco has great experience of alternative energy, and that tells it two things: That hybrid currently comes with too high a cost, and that fuel cell is both too expensive and environmentally unsound. CNG and electric are different, says Martin. Iveco is clear about where it sees the Daily Electric slotting into the market; it is an urban vehicle, and that makes it well-suited for use as an accessible minibus.

Daily Blue Power range includes both battery electric and CNG models

“Long-distance battery-powered commercial vehicles are a long way off,” he adds. The Daily Electric is available for conversion to passenger-carrying layout at GVWs of 3,500-5,600kg.

Perhaps less positively for minibus buyers, a derogation granted by the Department for Transport will not be applicable to the passenger sector.

Dailys powered by alternative fuels that are used for carrying goods may be driven on a Category B licence at a GVW of up to 4,250kg, but CNG- or electric-fuelled minibuses may not.

Opinion will be divided on whether that is a good thing, but Iveco confirms that the Blue Power drivelines do not add 750kg to the unladen weight, meaning that usable payload would increase were the derogation adopted for PCVs.

Electric dreams

Iveco uses a modular battery configuration in the Daily Electric. One, two or three packs are available, giving a maximum range of 200km. The vehicle can be either charged overnight or via a faster system between duties.

Critically, a three-battery Daily Electric is heavier than a diesel equivalent. However, if that energy storage package is combined with the 5,600kg GVW, it is likely that 19 seated passengers or seven wheelchair users could be carried in a minibus that still has a significant range.

Climate control is an issue that is important on passenger variants. At full power, the cab heater uses 5kW/h of energy; that has the potential to seriously impact range, and Iveco is open to fitting an auxiliary saloon heater to Daily Electrics used as minibuses.

Besides the batteries, a supercapacitor is fitted. It harnesses electrical energy recaptured when slowing, which is then returned to the driveline when the accelerator is reapplied.

Life’s a gas

The CNG-powered Daily is much more on a par with a diesel in terms of performance and range. The problem may prove to be where to fuel it. If that can be surmounted, it is a realistic challenger, and when run on biogas, it is carbon neutral in operation.

Five tanks are fitted as standard, with a sixth available as an option. Two are behind the rear axle; that may sound less than ideal where either a drop boot or a wheelchair lift are required, but Iveco says that there is good latitude to move them.

Daily CNG very similar to diesel in performance terms; fuelling is tricky

Vans for conversion are available with CNG power up to a GVW of 5,000kg, and the chassis cowl utilised by bodybuilders maxes at 7,000kg GVW. That gives a reasonable scope for the use of CNG in passenger applications.

An important thing to note on the Daily CNG is that in some circumstances, it is a ‘dual fuel’ model. On vans, Iveco adds a 14-litre petrol tank; the F1C engine when adapted to run on CNG has spark plugs, hence that capability.

What is equally important to consider is that the petrol is not present for a specific mechanical reason. Instead, it acts as a ‘range extender’ to prevent the need for recovery. Iveco says that the Daily CNG has around a 100km range on petrol.

Chassis cowls do not come with the petrol tank and they run entirely on CNG. That, Iveco says, is because it does not believe that petrol will have sufficient power for use in heavier variants of the Daily.

Behind the wheel

Iveco gave the press the opportunity to put both the Daily CNG and the Daily Electric through their paces earlier in April. While the demonstrators provided were goods carrying models, the Italian manufacturer is well on the way to completing its first electric minibus. More news on it is expected later this year.

Martin’s claim that the Daily Electric is optimised to urban use is accurate. Its single motor’s maximum rating is around 80bhp, and it delivers 200Nm of torque. Both are significantly lower than a diesel Daily. Drive and reverse are selected using the same selector as governs the Hi-Matic gearbox. It’s P button activates an audible pedestrian warning system, and the power and economy settings remain.

“The driver needs to take much more of a stake in getting the best from the Daily Electric than they would in a diesel or CNG version,” says Martin. He explains that the switch between the two modes should be made as and when required, which a short drive showed is often.

In economy, torque is limited and the Daily Electric makes progress that is best described as steady. When opened up to power mode, it is better, but hill climbing is not on a part with a diesel. The selector also governs the degree of energy regeneration. It has three settings, and in the strongest, braking is detectable as soon as the accelerator is released.

A console displaying how efficiently the driver is performing is in the middle of the dash, but it is difficult to see. The conventional instrument binnacle is largely the same as a diesel’s, although the tachometer now displays motor RPM.

Daily Electric comes with just 80bhp and is very much an urban vehicle

The motor is water cooled, and a temperature gauge is present. Under prolonged full power, it becomes very hot, but Iveco fits self-protect software that prevents it from becoming dangerously overheated.

Gas gets going

The Daily CNG has the three-litre F1C engine used in diesel models in the passenger market. It is rated at a modest 136bhp and 350Nm of torque, although a more powerful variant is planned for 2019.

Six tanks give a maximum of 272 litres of gas storage, and refuelling time is less than three minutes.

Other than that, there is little to say about the Daily CNG; it drives exactly as a diesel version does, although under moderate to full power it is noisier than may be expected. At idle or low throttle, it is very quiet.

Power delivery is exactly as in a diesel and the acclaimed Hi-Matic functions in the same manner. It works very well with the CNG fuel and shifts are as smooth as has come to be expected.

CNG generates more heat than diesel when combusted. However, there are no worries about it being a problem in testing terrain; the radiator used is compatible with the diesel F1C at up to 205bhp, so it has more than sufficient capacity to keep the Daily CNG cool.

Is this the future?

Iveco is approaching alternative fuels in a measured way. Its core range remains diesel-powered, but the Daily CNG and Daily Electric mark the beginning of a sustainable move into other energy sources.

Both vehicles work. The Daily Electric is clearly an urban dweller. It lacks the oomph for high-speed use, but it has an excellent range if used correctly. It also offers a comparable TCO to a diesel. It is suitable now for use as an accessible minibus.

The Daily CNG brings a fuelling conundrum with it. But if that can be overcome, it too will have a use where tailpipe or well-to-wheel CO2 emissions are a concern.

Nobody can doubt that in future years, urban emissions - particularly from diesel - will come under increasing focus. The Daily Blue Power range is not yet perfected - and Iveco accepts that - but it gives a taster of what may lie in store for some minicoach and minibus operators.

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